Sunday, November 27, 2005


That's the best word to describe the two offenses that met last night at historic Grant Field at Bobby Dodd Stadium near Bobby Cremins Court at Alexander Memorial Coliseum at McDonald's Center. (Did I get everything right there?) Mark Richt and Chan Gailey seemed to execute their own private Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, only instead of dividing up Poland and agreeing to a short-lived non-aggression agreement, they were agreeing not to try too hard to score on one another. Fortunately for Dawg fans, Thomas Flowers executed his own Operation Barbarossa by single-handedly changing field position and giving Richt the platform to do what he should have been doing regularly all game: play-action passes down the field.

I may not have a sterling resume of coaching offensive football like Richt does (or even any experience coaching anything other than a PlayStation dynasty,) but I have watched enough football to know that when a defense is blitzing on just about every play and is concurrently taking away your running game, the response ought to be a lightning aerial assault over London, er, to the receivers down the field. Georgia reminded me of a basketball team that is being pressed full-court by an opponent, but refuses to attack the basket after breaking the press. And Georgia's decision not to attack deep is even more perplexing, given the presence of Leonard Pope, who is simply too big for any Tech defender to cover down the field.

Two points in Richt's defense: (1) he was probably worried about protecting Shockley long enough to let his receivers get down the field and also that Georgia would lose the game because of Shockley getting blind-sided while throwing the ball; and (2) on TV, I couldn't tell whether Tech was blitzing with zone coverage behind, so it's possible that the Jackets were taking away deep throws and betting that their pressure would deprive Shockley of the time to find the openings in the 10-20 yard range. Regarding the first point, play action on first down would have been the right solution, because the run fake would have slowed down Tech's rush long enough to let a receiver get down the field. Sure enough, that was what ultimately worked on the touchdown pass to Bryan McClendon. Regarding the second point, someone who went to the game will have to weigh in and let us know what coverage Tech was playing down the field.

Other thoughts:

1. If I were a Tech fan, this rationalization by Reggie Ball on the final interception would drive me crazy: "It was a great play by a great player. He guessed right, and there is nothing you can really do about it." Reggie, the funny thing is that a quarterback is supposed to, you know, think before throwing the ball. And when a corner is sitting on a short route, then that ought to trigger a "I shouldn't throw this ball" response in said quarterback's mind. Perhaps you might not have a career 36/39 touchdown to interception ratio if you exercised all those synapses that G-d gave you. Ball's carelessness with the rock is the reason why I don't criticize Chan Gailey's conservatism like I do Mark Richt's. Gailey needed to worry more about turnovers because of the quarterback who would be throwing the ball down the field. Additionally, Georgia was only rushing 3-4 defenders on most passing downs, which meant that Ball would have had fewer options down the field and interceptions would have been more likely. This is also why the criticism of "why didn't you go down the field more to Calvin Johnson" is somewhat misplaced. Gailey doesn't have the right guy to make those throws and Georgia played so much two-deep zone that the deep throws weren't a great idea. All that said, Gailey can be criticized for hitching his star to Reggie Ball and I suspect that a more creative offensive coach would have figured out ways to get his stud receiver more than two touches.

2. In the late 90s, Tech had a defensive head coach and a brilliant offensive coordinator. The defenses sucked, but the offenses got the Jackets to bowl games. The last few years of the Gailey regime have been the exact opposite. Gailey, like George O'Leary, apparently doesn't know his own alleged area of expertise very well. (O'Leary, however, wasn't the defensive coordinator, so he bears less blame than Gailey.) Gailey's success has been the result of a great defensive coordinator, John Tenuta, just as O'Leary's success was the result of Ralph Friedgen's offenses. If some defense-poor superpower lures Tenuta away (paging Dennis Franchione!), Gailey is going to be in a world of trouble.

3. Another thought on Tech: they, like Alabama, have a defense-heavy team that needed to be paired with great punting teams to be successful. Alabama was never really punished for this failing, but Tech was thoroughly punished last night by their comparative inability to run punts back for more than three yards. Their best hope was to survive into overtime, when the punting game would have become irrelevant, but the second half was simply too long.

4. In the second half, excluding their possession after the Jennings interception, Georgia ran on seven of eight first downs. Those seven first down runs netted a grand total of nine yards. Did we get a little too conservative there, Coach Richt? Were you really that confident that Tech would not be able to score on your defense that you could afford to hamstring your offense in that way? In contrast, Richt had a good balance between running and passing on first down in the first half. Excluding the drive at the end of the half and first and goal from the two, Georgia ran on only six of 15 first downs and it probably isn't a coincidence that their running game was much more effective when it was predictable; those six first down runs netted 37 yards.

5. This picture illustrates what a perfect throw D.J. Shockley made for the winning touchdown. For all the credit I want to give to Mark Richt for finally calling the play that Tech's defense demanded, it was still players winning the game for the Dawgs. Bear Bryant would be so proud of another illustration of his "you win with players" philosophy.

6. This Georgia offensive line has been nothing short of a disappointment this year. Stocked exclusively with seniors and juniors and headlined by the best guard in college football, they haven't been able to run the ball on good defenses all year and last night was no different. 68 yards rushing on 30 carries. Yes, the sacks deflate those numbers a little, but still...

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